By Neil Warner
We are in familiar territory once again in the Holy Land: bland statements of mutual cooperation from people who openly despise each other cover an underlying consensus that is entirely pessimistic. It is negotiations time again, a now fairly reliable and predictable festival in the region since being inaugurated 17 years ago in Oslo.
The general agreement is that the recently initiated talks have been doomed to failure from the beginning, and they have already stalled with Israel’s refusal to continue its settlement-building freeze in the West Bank, an agreement which had always excluded East Jerusalem.
Much of the language of even neutral sources relating to the situation in Israel and Palestine is so misleading as to make one think that they were documenting it in a different time or place, except that this rhetoric is so effective that it has, in the minds of many people, indirectly managed to turn fiction into reality. It has created a conflict whose terms of reference in public and elite consciousnesses are invented or at least refracted into something almost totally different from what logic and history should tell us.
What am I referring to here? Consider the way the peace process is presented. An analogy which is frequently drawn is with Northern Ireland. The peace process is regarded in the media as a case of two sides coming together, overcoming their intractable and irrational differences for the greater good of peace. Moderate leaders in both Palestine and Israel, just like the two sides in Northern Ireland, must come to terms with reality.
Peace will finally come when the two sides reach an understanding of each other’s perspectives and the grievances. That is the account at its most neutral, but many have an anti-Palestinian slant, particularly in America, giving the impression that the Palestinians are the main extremists.
This is all nonsense. The reality is that the “peace process” is a fraud which, though increasingly obvious, continues to be publicly swallowed by most foreign leaders and commentators. Remember the context of all this. The Zionist movement from its beginning promised Jews around the world that its project was to regain control of this “land without a people” that is modern Israel-Palestine.
The Palestinian presence in their historical homeland is quite simply a nuisance to be gotten rid of, and it has been the isolated problem of the Israelis for 60 years. Starting with a population of approximately 12 percent in 1900, the Jews numbered only about one third of the population at the time of a favourable partition plan which gave them 55 percent of the land in 1947. Arab rejection of this unfair plan gave the Israelis an excuse to turn their dream into reality, and force the exodus of 700,000 people from their homes. The land already has a people? Well too bad, we’ll just force them out.
This worked once. The current, undisputed lands of Israel consist of 78 percent of the former British colony of “Mandate Palestine” out of which they were established in 1948. But the conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 left them once again with the problem of wanting the land but not its people. Nonetheless, they pursued colonisation of their new conquests for 20 years, but when the Palestinians got uppity in the 1980s they were forced into a new approach.
It was then that they discovered the wonderful “peace process”. Yitzhak Rabin initiated it with Arafat in front of the world’s media in 1993, and to show his good will, immediately began acceleration of settlement-building. He never intended to give up anything he wanted. The most Israel has ever even allegedly offered was at Camp David in 2000, when it proposed a Palestinian state with no control over its border, without the Jordan Valley or East Jerusalem and with no compensation for refugees. The peace process essentially hopes to isolate the Palestinians and keep all of their land that’s useful.
Negotiations usually involve a series of incremental compromises on both sides. How has this happened in this case? Israel has given in on things it never wanted in the first place and Palestine has clung on to the least it is entitled to because they have no alternative. That is the full glorious history of the peace process.
Israel will not compromise because it is under no pressure to. The conflict will only be solved once we stop seeing it as a case of ethnic and religious tension and instead see it as a racist colonisation of the weak by the strong, once we stop comparing it to Northern Ireland and start comparing it to South Africa, and once we stop trying to solve things by mutual understanding and start to realise that the simplest way forward is simply to turn the screw on Israel.